Tom Ryder earns 2020 Honorary Membership

Tom Ryder was in his first year in college when he first learned about The Wildlife Society.

“I stumbled across this gray journal in the dusty old bookshelves of the college library,” he said. “It was the old Journal of Wildlife Management. I just got intrigued by the organization.”

He didn’t know then how much TWS would become part of his life. The next year, Ryder would transfer from his hometown college in Iowa to the University of Wyoming, where he became an active TWS member and embarked on what would become a lifelong wildlife biology career in the Cowboy State.

By the time he retired in 2014, Ryder had served as assistant wildlife chief of the state Game and Fish Department and wildlife policy adviser to the Wyoming governor. His time at TWS included serving as president from 2010 to 2011.

This year, Ryder is receiving the TWS Honorary Membership, a recognition of continuous outstanding service to the wildlife profession.

His accomplishments “comprise a long list of contributions to wildlife conservation that embody a career of meritorious service,” wrote John Organ, who nominated him for the honorary membership.

“It’s such a humbling thing to be considered and selected,” Ryder said. “When you look at some of the other folks through time who have been named honorary member, you’re among some elite people.”

Ryder intended to be a game warden when he started at Wyoming Game and Fish, but he soon found himself moving up the ranks as a wildlife biologist. His work spanned from working with some of the state’s least glamorous reptiles and small mammals in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming to managing some of its most iconic species.

Transferring to the agency’s office in Dubois, southeast of Yellowstone National Park, Ryder found himself conducting aerial surveys of bighorn (Ovis canadensis), pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), moose (Alces alces), elk (Cervus canadensis) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and traversing wilderness areas on horseback.

“I can’t describe how exciting that was to work out there as a young guy,” he said.

When his duties shifted to overseeing the Lander area, he found himself working with greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) and other species of the vast sagebrush sea.

Over the years, Ryder moved up the ladder to wildlife management coordinator; then to deputy chief, overseeing the wildlife division budget and the state’s endangered species programs; then to wildlife policy adviser to Gov. Matt Mead, where his work including representing Wyoming to the Western Governors Association wildlife task force and the sage-grouse coordinating committee.

“It was such an honor to represent the state,” Ryder said.

Their work helped create protections that convinced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that greater sage-grouse could persist without being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Ryder also chaired the Pacific Flyway Council and the Yellowstone Ecosystem subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Committee.

“We felt we were right on the cusp of being able to delist the bear in the greater Yellowstone area,” he said. That never happened, but the grizzly’s (Ursus arctos horribilis) numbers have risen dramatically in the region.

Yet Ryder said he is proudest of his work with TWS. After serving as president of both the Wyoming Chapter and the Central Mountains and Plains Section and two terms on Council as Central Mountains and Plains Section representative, he was elected to serve as vice president of Council, leading to becoming the 65th president.

As president, he helped establish the Conservation Roundtable, a group led by Simon Roosevelt and Alison Rockefeller to engage business and social leaders in conservation issues. A charter member of The 1000 group of donors, he remains an active member of the heritage and retired wildlife professionals committees.

“When I look back at the sum total of TWS experiences and professional experiences, I think being voted in as president of TWS is probably the thing I’m most proud of,” he said. “The ability to lead the organization at that time was an honor I never have duplicated.”

Header Image: Tom Ryder has received the 2020 TWS Honorary Membership. Credit: Courtesy Tom Ryder